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The Influencers

Disabilities in Advertising: How to Get It Right

INFLUENCERS: Ahead of International Disability Day, DDFH&B/JWT Dublin’s Roisin Keown and Leo Bartoli share what they learned developing MakeWayDay

Disabilities in Advertising: How to Get It Right

There are around 13.3 million people with disabilities in the UK, but you wouldn’t know that from watching the ads. Let’s be honest, adland doesn’t have the greatest track record of representing people with disabilities. While conversations about the on-screen portrayals of gender and race in advertising are slowly beginning to gain traction, disability still seems to be shrouded in taboo. 

Ahead of International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3rd December, DDFH&B/JWT Dublin’s Head of Creative Roisin Keown and Creative Leo Bartoli share what they learned from developing the MakeWayDay phenomenon recently – an activation that aims to make way on our streets for people with disabilities. 

Condensed into four helpful tips, here’s how brands and advertisers can get it right:

1. Partner with real people living with disabilities 

It may seem like a no-brainer, but working with people with disabilities really is the best way for brands and advertisers to get it right. 

This doesn’t just mean on-screen, but right from the beginning of the creative process.

You will think you understand the nuances and challenges, but you won’t. Language is so important. Very early pieces we developed for MakeWayDay included the phrase ‘the disabled’, when correct and respectful terminology is ‘people with disabilities’. 

Communications can’t be impactful if you don’t have the community behind it. Collaborate with disabilities councils when possible to shape your campaign. 

Also, never cast able-bodied actors in place of real people with disabilities! Let last year’s infamous Paralympics photoshoot for Vogue Brazil be a lesson to us all…


2. Ask yourself, are we aiming to be truly effective?

It’s all well and good creating a feel-good, beautifully-crafted campaign that looks good on your portfolio - but does it really achieve its goals? Talk with your disability partners to understand how to make the most impact.  

One of the key challenges we encountered was reminding the sector to not just talk to itself. We found that MakeWayDay was influential so quickly because it was a movement to catalyse real behavioural change throughout society. 


3. Challenge stereotypes

Despite almost 1/5 of the UK population living with disabilities, we only really tend to see people with disabilities portrayed in advertising through an inspirational or tragic lens.

There’s far more to people’s lives than overcoming these challenges. Honest representations of people involved in everyday activities and scenarios, who just happen to be disabled, can be just as powerful. That’s not to say that campaigns around disabilities shouldn’t ever be inspirational, but that we need more diverse ones. 

An important consideration for us was to position people living with disabilities not as the passive recipients of a campaign message, but as proactive, empowered, and agitating themselves for equal consideration on our streets.


4. Be smart. Be ambitious

It’s easy to stray into making a beautiful monochrome film with a soaring soundtrack, but to make a wider impact you need to be where people are forming, changing and exchanging opinions. 

Many people with disabilities are some of the most avid users of social media such as Snapchat and Twitter because of their limited mobility, so make use of this amazing global advocacy resource!

Shape a conversation people will be compelled to engage with. As part of our campaign, we persuaded Dublin’s Lord Mayor to tweet a controversial and conversation-starting tweet, which generated immediate engagement.

Think big. Our ambition was never that MakeWayDay should be a local Irish activation. Instead, we designed it so it can catch on all over the world, encouraging people from all over the world to petition their local authority to create a more equal society for people with disabilities.

We have some of the most creative minds in our industry, and there’s no doubt we can do so much more in the campaigns we create around disability. So, let’s seize this opportunity to be ambitious, to be mindful, and do our part in bringing about change.



The theme for this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities is ‘Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all’. 

To find out more about MakeWayDay, check out the full story here and visit makewayday.com.